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Alibaba launches free China online advert service

BEIJING (Reuters) - Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce firm, launched on Wednesday a free online advertising service, Alimama.com, with the goal of being the largest within five years.

Alimama.com, a wholly owned unit of Alibaba.com Inc, is targeting small-to-middle sized websites, but did not reveal a timetable for when it would begin charging for the new service.

“The goal for Alimama.com set by Ma is to acquire the largest share of online advertising in China within 3-5 years,” said Wu Yongming, general manager of the company, referring to Alibaba founder Jack Ma.

“The firm would post a revenue between three and five billion yuan within the next three to five years,” Wu said.

Alibaba’s Taobao is often called China’s eBay Inc, but still does not charge for its services after five years of operation.

The new service will provide small-to-middle sized websites greater access to advertising income, while companies would have more marketing options, said Wu.

After a 10-month trial run, Alimama.com has about 400,000 registered websites and records 2.8 billion daily page views, said Wu. Its patrons include Hewlett-Packard Co, Nokia and PepsiCo Inc, he said.

Total online advertising in China is expected to reach 12.2 billion yuan ($1.76 billion) in 2008, growing 58.5 percent from last year, according to the Data Center of the China Internet.

The company did not provide any investment details.

Alimama.com is hoping at least 80 percent of Chinese Internet users will see advertisements sold through Alimama.com by the end of the year, he said.

The new company employs over 300 people, said Wu.

($=6.8822 yuan)

Reporting by Michael Wei; Editing by Kirby Chien

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